Anthem or anathema: Can respect for the national anthem be imposed?

I’ve got used to it. But being in the shower or worse, being on the commode, when the band strikes up the national anthem felt bizarre when we first came to live in Bimbisar Nagar in 2008,” says Ashwini Sane, a banker who lives in the MHADA colony abutting the State Reserve Police camp in Mumbai’s north-western suburb of Goregaon.

“We wake to a bugle from the camp at 6 am. Just when you try to fall asleep again in an hour a band begins practising while the SRP jawans march. This extends to even three hours in the build-up to January 26, August 15 or May 1.” Every song — filmi patriotic ditties, old British-era hand-me-downs and Jana Gana Mana — is repeated after a mistake.” She laughs at the angry conductor who uses choicest expletives on the megaphone when that happens. “Forget patriotic fervour, I go hysterical laughing.”

Anthem or anathema: Can respect for the national anthem be imposed?

This 39-year-old now struggles not to chortle when the national anthem plays in cinemas before screenings. Readers will recall how four years ago the Supreme Court ruled: “All cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem as a part of their sacred obligation. The directions are issued, for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the national anthem as well as to the national flag. That apart, it would instil the feeling within one, a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism. A time has come, the citizens of the country must realise that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to the national anthem, which is the symbol of Constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality.”

Sane, who was part of the NCC in school, clarifies: “My father was in the police and both his brothers armymen. Patriotism has always been important at home and in school. But after my husband bought this Goregaon flat, I can’t stand the anthem.” She asks the point of playing it before watching what she calls as “sexist clothed-porn” films like Pyaar Ka Panchanama or Grand Masti. “I now wait outside and ask ushers if the national anthem has played out before entering,” and quickly adds, “It’s better than getting into fights or worse being beaten.” In October 2016 wheelchair-bound writer and disability rights activist Salil Chaturvedi — who couldn’t stand due to a spinal injury — was assaulted at a Goa multiplex for not standing up for the national anthem.

Anthem or anathema: Can respect for the national anthem be imposed?

Across the city, her sentiment finds echo in theatreperson-director Manjul Bharadwaj, who asks: “Is mere standing up in cinema halls patriotic? Is the average worker hanging out of the train for dear life on his commute daily, those who dive into dirty sewers to clean them or a homemaker caring for a critical elder at home less patriotic than soldiers guarding borders? An hierarchy of patriotism is deliberately created to keep us from highlighting real issues like jobs, cost of living, housing, education and healthcare. Waving the tricolour is a great distraction to divert citizenry from widespread corruption and rising crime — which those in power facilitate.”

Others, like celebrated documentary filmmaker, Anjali Monteiro, whose work has won over 23 national and international awards feels this is linked to today's far right public discourse. “This is also an extension of an archaic mindset that sees cinema as evil. It is as if the national anthem is a sort of a prophylactic to ensure one is not corrupted.”

Anthem or anathema: Can respect for the national anthem be imposed?

Renowned classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal — a part of the award winning public service film Respect The National Anthem — differentiates between the emotion of Rabindranath Tagore’s words and chest thumping, flag-waving patriotism. Incidentally though the film (which showed a physically-challenged cobbler — whose transistor dial changes and the national anthem starts mid-way at Vindhya Himachal — use a crutch to stand braving the rain. Seeing him, other shoe-shine boys join him) which struck a chord across the world, ran into trouble with some who found it insulting. “They were offended the anthem did not play fully for the officially mandated 52 seconds and wanted us legally charged.” The celebrated composer-singer admits being emotionally overwhelmed when she sings the national anthem, but is at a loss to understand how this emotion can be imposed.

More than imposition, Mudgal can’t get over the second part of the Supreme Court’s order which says doors will remain shut. “Have we forgotten what happened in the Uphaar tragedy? (The ‘patriotic’ multi-starrer based on the 1971 war, Border was playing in the Delhi theatre when a fire broke out killing 58 and leaving 105 injured) And how tragically lives were lost! I shudder to think what will happen in the face of some untoward incident when every second counts.”

All for people coming together to sing Jana Gana Mana, celebrating a diverse India, Mudgal underlines how the versions in theatres have artistes rendering bits which are digitally put together. “How can this be used to then talk of unity in India when artistes can’t come together for the national anthem?” Incidentally, industry insiders remember how bickerings grew into a full-blown slang match between a late ghazal maestro and a classical legend each felt the other was getting more footage in one production. “The two filmmakers Bharata Bala and Kanika Myer were at their wits end over how to manage these inflammable egos,” remembers a recordist who was present. Repeated calls and an email to Bharat Bala did not yield any response.

An hierarchy of patriotism is deliberately created to keep us from highlighting real issues like jobs, cost of living, housing, education and healthcare. Waving the tricolour is a great distraction to divert citizenry from widespread corruption and rising crime — which those in power facilitate. — Manjul Bharadwaj, Theatreperson-director

Jana Gana Mana in films

When Sarim Momin re-interpreted Rabindranath Tagore’— Is Rann Mein Zakhmi Hua Hai, Bharat Ka Bhaagya Vidhaata/ Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha/ Ek Doosre Se Ladd Ke Mar Rehein Hain - were used in Ram Gopal Varma’s Rann (2009), the Censors had it edited out. Varma went to the Supreme Court in appeal but it threw his petition out. “No one has a right to tinker with the national anthem,” it ruled.

Outrage over A R Rahman’s Jana Gana Mana (2000) had led to several court cases against the Oscar-awardee. Karan Johar’s use of the national anthem in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, a year later, got a Lucknow resident Pradeep Chandra so worked up, he went to court. He was offended no one stood up when the scene played out. While that case took until January 2016 to get Johar a clean chit, others like Manish Acharya’s Loins of Punjab (2007) took the safe way out with supers warning audiences to stand up when Michael Raimondi’s character sings the national anthem at a reality singing show.

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